Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood one off the lead in Malaysia
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 19/02/16 9:09pm
Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood both made encouraging starts to the Maybank Championship Malaysia as Nathan Holman set the first-round pace at Royal Selangor.
Holman, who claimed his maiden European Tour title at the Australian PGA Championship in December, claimed the outright lead after carding a flawless seven-under 64, while the English duo of Willett and Fleetwood are just one stroke off the pace.
World No 13 Willett, the highest-ranked player in the field, admitted he enjoyed an "outrageous" last 11 holes after being one over for the first seven, making five birdies and an eagle to charge up the leaderboard.
The Dubai Desert Classic champion made back-to-back birdies at eight and nine, and he then pitched in for an eagle at the 13th before rolling in a monster putt of around 50 feet for birdie at the next.
Willett picked up another shot at the long 15th, and his lengthy putt for birdie at the last looked to be racing past the hole, only to thud into the back of the cup and drop to cap an entertaining 65.
"It's a strange old game," he told Sky Sports 4 afterwards. "We hit it close a lot on the front nine and made nothing until eight and nine. And then we took advantage of the par fives and holed two really long ones. It kind of goes in circles. You miss a few short ones and then you don't expect to hole a long one like that at 18, especially going at that pace, but I'll take it."
Willett upstaged the likes of Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson to win his fourth European Tour title in Dubai a fortnight ago, and he added: "We're doing all the right things. The work that we're doing is the same, week in week out. The warm-ups and workouts are all the same so I am trying to keep the feelings as similar as possible but it's a stupid game, isn't it?
"You can play well and shoot millions or you can scab it a bit and shoot a good score. Fortunately a few things went our way today so hopefully we can keep riding that wave and see what comes."
Young Australian Holman did well to keep a bogey off his seven-birdie card, and he believes he can soon breach the world's top 100 if he keeps up his current form.
"Every part of my game was quite good and I was saying a few weeks ago that my game has been trending in that right direction so it was nice to get a really good one in," said the 24-year-old.
"A lot of the guys probably haven't played here. It's quite a tricky golf course and quite short so you need good lines off the tee and if you can get your wedges and putter going, you can post a score. It suits my eye. I quite like the look of it and obviously that's shown through with the score I had today so I'm looking forward to the next three days.
"My immediate ambition is top 100 in the world and then move into the top 50 in a few years."
Fleetwood's 65 was also bogey-free, and he and Willett share second with Angelo Que, Peter Uihlein, Jorge Campillo and Alexander Levy, who shared the lead with Holman until making his only bogey of the day at the last hole.
Louis Oosthuizen opened with a solid six-birdie 67, but Martin Kaymer has work to do just to make the halfway cut after the German offset four birdies with as many bogeys in an erratic level-par 71.
Meanwhile, four-time European Tour winner David Horsey was forced to withdraw after just nine holes, and he later revealed that he would soon be undergoing knee surgery which will sideline him until at least mid-April.
"Disappointed to have to withdraw from @maybankchampio1. Shooting pains up my lower back made it impossible to continue," Horsey said on his Twitter account. "Now having a knee op on my R lateral meniscus on Tue, which puts me out until Spanish Open. Hope to be back fitter and stronger by then."